Inside the NFL’s careful, complicated embrace of sports gambling - Uk casino and poker club

Inside the NFL’s careful, complicated embrace of sports gambling

In the early 2000s, during his nascent days as mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman asked for a meeting with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. He envisioned a franchise in his city, which at the time professional sports leagues treated as a third rail. Vegas meant gambling, and gambling meant a threat — whether perceived or real — to fans’ trust in the integrity of the games. Tagliabue met with Goodman, but he made clear that Goodman’s vision would 

never happen

We were poison,” said Carolyn Goodman, who replaced her husband as Las Vegas’s mayor in 2011. “It was solid steel never, no. There was no wiggle room there. The door was closed, locked, sealed.”

The city would discover just how firmly the NFL stood against it. In 2003, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority attempted to buy airtime for a Super Bowl commercial. The league refused, a fortification of the barricade it had erected between itself and gambling. “The NFL has a long-standing policy that prohibits the acceptance of any message that makes reference to or mention of sports betting,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy explained at the time

But in the five years since the federal ban on sports betting fell and states widely legalized it, the NFL has changed with America at dizzying speed. Gambling has driven the NFL’s popularity since its earliest days, but the league always repelled any sanctioned connection. It has now wrapped its arms around sports wagering, holding dollars in both fists. The league has three official sports betting partners. Sportsbooks operate next to — or, in the case of the Washington Commanders, inside — stadiums. This year’s Super Bowl will be played in a city whose existence the league once refused to acknowledge during Super Bowl commercial breaks.

In 2022, Carolyn Goodman watched the NFL draft with her husband. They saw Goodell standing on a stage adjacent to the Strip. The NFL had already awarded Super Bowl LVIII to Las Vegas. It would be played in Allegiant Stadium, the home of the Raiders since 2020. The firewall between league and city, between the NFL and gambling, had been razed.

“It’s an amazing thing when we were at the draft, to see him onstage and just thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, and here we were, this poor little city couldn’t even get an advertisement up during the Super Bowl,’ ” Carolyn Goodman said. “Now look. Here we are. We’ve got it coming.”

While the league reaps the spoils of revenue from its partnerships with gambling companies, it also has confronted the pitfalls it once feared, from the potential addiction and exploitation of fans to the erosion of trust in the outcome of games. Today, NFL players are strictly forbidden from betting on the NFL or from gambling of any kind while at team facilities — including team buses and planes — or on team business. When a team stays overnight on a road trip, its players cannot visit casinos in that city.

The NFL has suspended 10 players who violated league rules since 2021, but it openly admits the lure of a business opportunity outweighs the risks of damaging its competitive integrity.

“It’s one of the reasons we oppose legalized sports betting because of the risk to the integrity of the game,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an NBC interview before the 2023 season’s opening game. “And so that’s always going to be our number one priority. When the Supreme Court overruled that, we have to be in that space.”

The NFL rushed into the space more tentatively than other sports leagues. Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis once said gambling “kind of saved sports short term” after the coronavirus pandemic rearranged the business landscape. These days, many MLB, NHL and NBA broadcasts can feel like hours-long gambling advertisements

The NFL’s colossal television rights contract, which immunizes the league’s owners from the regional sports network crises that other leagues face, has enabled it not to be reliant on sports gambling. The league caters its game broadcasts to nongamblers, understanding bettors can seek out alternative content and trying not to turn away fans. It discourages broadcast partners from openly discussing betting lines during games, although some pregame segments focus explicitly on point spreads and prop bets. The league allows networks to sell a maximum of six commercials per game to sports betting companies.

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“The NFL has approached these topics at a more deliberate pace,” said Chris Grove, an emeritus partner at gambling consulting firm Eilers & Krejcik. “The NFL just took the position of: ‘We are the center of gravity when it comes to the intersection of professional sports. We generate the most interest, the most volume, the most revenue. We are the crown jewels. Let’s let the rest of the market settle. We’ll get a sense of where the value is, where the value isn’t, and we’re not going to surrender any leverage by doing so. In fact, we’ll probably increase leverage by doing so.’ The NFL definitely moved at its own pace and definitely waited for the rest of the landscape to settle.”

Still, sports gambling has transformed the NFL’s sponsorship revenue. In 2018, the first year the league allowed teams to strike marketing deals with gambling companies, it made $35 million from gambling-related sponsors, from tribal casinos to fantasy football, according to data compiled by research firm SponsorUnited. The NFL now makes $132 million per year from gambling-related sponsorships, “which is the equivalent of, like, adding two to three NFL teams and their sponsorship revenues just from this one category,” SponsorUnited CEO Bob Lynch said.

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